Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Supplicants at the Arch: A Parable

In the shade of a high sandstone arch, a troop of watchmen guard the main point of entry into the city's Imperial Plaza, a heavily fortified area west of the Great River, from which the officials of the New Order govern. The arch was built a few years ago by the Emperor, now dead, in imitation of ancient gates that once protected the city from foreign invaders. The people of the city now call it the Gate of Supplication.

Early each morning, before the sun grows dangerous, crowds of people gather at the Gate of Supplication. Some are job seekers, while others are protesters carrying banners. Demonstrators bring their causes here and sometimes turn into rioters. People hand out lists naming family members executed by the Old Order or carry letters addressed to the chief officials that govern the city. With the Old Order overthrown, most of the people don't know where to take their grievances and petitions, where to unload the burden of their personal histories. So, like supplicants to the Caliph of ancient Constantinople, they bring them directly to the Gate of Supplication. But few people have the credentials to enter the Imperial Plaza, and there are few, if any, watchmen with the necessary credentials to allow access to the Gate. The people stand on one side of coils of wire, gesturing and trying to explain why they must get in; on the other side stand armed watchmen, doing twelve-hour shifts of checkpoint duty, keeping them out.

One day in July, a tiny woman in a salmon-colored veil stepped out of the crowd and thrust a handwritten letter at one of the watchmen. She was a schoolteacher, about thirty, with glasses and thick white face powder and an expression so pointedly solemn that she might have been a mime performing grief. Her letter, which was eighteen pages long, requested an audience with the chief officials of the New Order. It contained a great deal of detailed advice on the need to govern the city with justice and mercy. She was having trouble sleeping, she said, and had all but stopped eating.

A man with a cane hobbled from the line. His left hand, wrapped in a bandage, was missing the thumb. He explained to the teacher that he had been paralyzed in a terrible accident while attempting to flee the city, and that at some point he had lost the piece of paper entitling him to hospital care. Now that the officials of the New Order were in charge, he felt emboldened to ask for another copy--and so he had come to the Gate of Supplication. The man, unshaven and wretched-looking, began to cry. The teacher told him not to be sad, to trust in God, and to speak with the watchmen at the checkpoint. He shuffled back in line.

"Please, sir, can you help me?" the teacher continued. "I must work with the New Order, because my psychology is demolished. Not just me. All the people. Psychological demolition."

The woman did not have the necessary credentials, and was turned away by the one watchman present at the scene who had the necessary credentials to permit access to The Imperial Plaza.

1 comment:

Gary Freedman said...

THis post was inspired by the action of my psychotherapist in taking a two-and-one-half month leave of absence, thereby leaving me without anybody to talk to for the upcoming ten weeks.